Our Guide to MBA Concentrations

Earning your master’s in business administration could help you secure a new career, advance in your current role and possibly increase your earning potential. If you already know that you want a master’s in business administration, the next step is deciding between a general MBA or one with a concentration. An MBA concentration is like a major for a bachelor’s degree; you’ll have core business classes in subjects like leadership and strategy, plus devote more time to studying particular subjects in your concentration, such as entrepreneurship, finance or management.

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Syracuse University’s Online MBA

  • Top-ranked online MBA1
  • GMAT waivers for experienced professionals
  • As few as 24 months to complete

1The Princeton Review – Top 25 Online MBA Programs 2020 

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UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School- Online MBA

  • #1-ranked online MBA2
  • GMAT waivers available for experienced professionals
  • As few as 18 months to complete

2U.S. News & World Report – 2020 Best Online MBA Programs 

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American University’s Online MBA

  • No GMAT required
  • Six focus areas available
  • Complete in as few as 15 months
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University of Denver's Online MBA

  • GMAT waivers for experienced professionals
  • As few as 21 months to complete
  • Concentration options available in marketing and finance
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Rice Business- Online MBA

  • Ranked No. 1 in the nation for graduate entrepreneurship education by the Princeton Review3
  • Residential Intensive Learning Experiences (ILEs) hosted on campus
  • Faculty remain active in research and publish insights in Rice Business Wisdom, an online business periodical

3The Princeton Review & Entrepreneur Magazine

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The University of Dayton- Online MBA

  • As few as 12–15 months to complete
  • GMAT waivers available
  • AACSB accredited
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University of California, Davis- Online MBA

  • On-campus MBA ranked among the top 50 MBA programs by U.S. News & World Report since 1996
  • Students can complete the program in as few as 24 months
  • The Graduate School of Management at UC Davis is AACSB accredited
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Pepperdine Graziadio Business School- Online MBA

  • Complete in as few as 20 months
  • GMAT waivers are available to qualified applicants
  • Scholarships available
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8 Online MBA Programs with GMAT Waivers

The GMAT stands for the Graduate Management Admission Test. Many schools require this standardized test as part of the business school application process. The GMAT takes no more than three and a half hours to complete and is made up of four sections:

  • Analytical Writing
  • Integrated Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Verbal Reasoning

For some students, standardized tests can be a hindrance to applying to business school. Not everyone excels in a standardized testing environment, and that’s okay. However, not wanting to take the GMAT shouldn’t deter you from applying to MBA school. In fact, several schools offer GMAT waiver opportunities for things like work experience or a high undergraduate GPA. If you want to earn an MBA but taking GMAT is holding you back, consider applying to one of the schools above; they offer GMAT waivers for their online MBA programs.

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Featured Online Masters in School Counseling Programs
School Name GMAT Requirement Program Length Accreditation Status
Syracuse University GMAT Waivers Available 24 - 36 months AACSB Accredited
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill GMAT Waivers Available 18 - 36 months AACSB Accredited
American University No GMAT Required 12 - 24 months AACSB Accredited
University of Denver GMAT Waivers Available As Few as 21 Months AACSB Accredited
Rice University GMAT Waivers Available 24 - 36 months AACSB Accredited
University of Dayton GMAT Waivers Available 12 - 24 months AACSB Accredited
University of California, Davis GMAT Waivers Available 24 - 36 months AACSB Accredited
Pepperdine University GMAT Waivers Available As Few as 20 Months AACSB Accredited

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Are There Concentrations in Online MBA Programs?

Not all online MBA programs will offer concentrations, but some do. Online MBA programs have the same format as on-campus MBA programs, besides being online instead of in person. If an on-campus MBA program has a certain concentration, its online program may have it as well. If you find a stellar concentration offered by an on-campus program, reach out to see if its online MBA program offers it as well. Online MBA concentrations may require projects and group work related to the concentration, in addition to lectures, online reading and exams.

Do MBA Concentrations Matter?

The answer to the question of whether or not MBA concentrations matter depends on the type of role you want to pursue upon graduating. MBA focus areas give students the opportunity to continue their education and acquire the skills and knowledge necessary within a specific field. While you do not necessarily need to pick a focus area to be successful, knowing what your focus area is before you begin your MBA studies can help you with the trajectory of your career. Think of it as being intentional.

The best MBA concentrations for you might be the ones that help you enter into an industry in which you have no experience. Choosing a relevant MBA concentration may help you enter the specific field. Aspiring MBA students should research the job descriptions of the roles they’re interested in to determine if a certain concentration is preferable. You can also look at the credentials of those who work in roles you’re interested in to see the type of MBA concentrations they’ve studied. MBA concentrations could possibly help you obtain an advanced role if your MBA experience is relevant to the desired position. 

If you’re wondering what the best MBA concentrations are to plan your MBA salary and career pursuits, this guide presents various concentrations that may help lead you to high-paying careers.

3 Highest-Paying MBA Concentrations

According to the Business School Hiring Report from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), MBA starting salaries hit a record high in 2019. The report surveyed more than 1,200 employers in 45 countries, discovering that the median annual base salary employers planned to offer MBA hires was $115,000, compared to $55,000 for new bachelor’s degree hires.

There’s no salary guaranteed with an MBA degree, but some business positions tend to earn more on average. How much you earn with an MBA will depend on a variety of factors. Some of these factors include:

  • Job location
  • Industry demand
  • Title and role responsibilities
  • Previous work experience

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has lists of business and financial occupations and management occupations, noting the 2019 median pay of jobs within each occupational group. According to these lists, here are some of the top-paying business occupations and their 2019 median salaries:

  • Human resources managers: $116,720
  • Financial managers: $129,890
  • Personal financial advisors: $87,850 
  • Financial analysts: $81,590
  • Accountants and auditors: $71,550
  • Advertising, promotions and marketing managers: $135,900 

While there is no guarantee that a concentration leads to a specific salary, the highest-paying MBA concentrations could be those geared toward some of the high-paying careers mentioned above. When you begin your search for an MBA concentration, consider earning potential, in addition to how a particular concentration aligns with your personal interests and career goals. Do some research to find out how much you can earn working in a specific concentration area, then ask yourself whether your potential earnings can help you cover the cost of your MBA degree. 

Also, consider that your salary potential may vary depending on whether or not you pursue a leadership position. According to the BLS, the 2019 median pay for top executives was $104,690 per year. Ultimately, your earning potential will depend on how you use your MBA.

1. Human Resources MBA Specialization

Those who study an MBA concentration in human resources will learn how human talent affects business performance and how to optimize that talent. Students learn skills like how to develop an engaged workforce and how to make smart hiring decisions. Human resources managers may oversee a team of human resources professionals and collaborate with the executive team to make corporate decisions.

2. Finance MBA Specialization

In an MBA program with a finance specialization, students study finance topics like investments, portfolio management, capital markets, international finance and derivative securities. Courses may cover valuation, investment banking and advanced corporate finance. A finance MBA could be applied to careers like financial analyst, personal financial advisor or starting your own firm. 

3. Accounting MBA Specialization

An MBA program with an accounting specialization can prepare you for accounting careers and to take the CPA exam. Courses may cover intermediate financial accounting, federal income tax, corporate tax, audit and managerial accounting. According to the BLS, accountants and auditors work in tax preparation and bookkeeping, finance and insurance, government, management, and self-employed settings.

Which MBA Specializations in High Demand?

Occupational Employment for the overall labor market is expected to grow 5.2% from 2018 to 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you want to venture into a specialty area with a high job growth rate, there are plenty of options to choose from. Here are some of job titles to consider:

  • Information Security Analysts – Employment for this group of professionals is projected to grow 32% between 2018 and 2028, according to the BLS. An MBA in Information Technology could lead to a job as an Information Security Analyst.
  • Medical and Health Service Managers – Employment for this group of professionals is projected to grow 18% between 2018 and 2028, according to the BLS. An MBA in Health Care Management could lead to a job as a Medical or Health Service Manager.
  • Financial Managers – Employment for this group of professionals is projected to grow 16% between 2018 and 2028, according to the BLS. An MBA in Finance could lead to a job as a Financial Manager.

5 Questions to Help Choose the Best MBA Concentration for You

As a prospective MBA student, you have many concentrations to choose from. Consider these questions to help you decide on the best MBA concentration for you.

1. Do you prefer online or on-campus study?

Answering this question first will help you narrow down the selection of schools to choose from among MBA programs. Would you prefer to go into a classroom every day, or does the flexibility of an online MBA program better fit your lifestyle? 

One advantage to online school is convenience; you don’t have to relocate to study for an MBA at the school of your choice. Accessing course materials can be done at home, which is conducive to those who want to continue working full time or part time while they study.

2. What will you do with your MBA degree?

Pursuing an MBA degree is both a financial and time commitment. You’ll want to make the most of your program by getting an MBA in a concentration that aligns with your professional goals. Ask yourself where you see yourself after graduation and how obtaining this MBA concentration will help you get there. 

Think about the jobs you’d like to get with an MBA. Research those job descriptions online to see what the requirements are. You can also use LinkedIn to reach out to your network to chat with professionals in the positions you’re interested in to see what type of degree they recommend.

3. Does a specialized MBA help you further your career goals?

Think about what will benefit your career more: a generalized MBA or an MBA with a concentration. Some students choose a general MBA degree to learn about core business principles and keep their skills sharp. But if you’re dedicated to making an impact in a specific field or advancing your career in a particular industry, a specialized MBA might be a good fit for you.

Narrow down concentrations by looking at the curriculum for MBA concentration programs and seeing how the skills you’ll learn align with job descriptions for roles you’re interested in. If you want to move up in your industry or at your current business, talk with higher-ups at your current company to see what they’d recommend. They may be in need of certain skills that you can master with an MBA concentration.

4. Can an MBA specialization assist with salary negotiations?

Do you want to use your MBA to increase your leverage in a salary negotiation to move into a higher-paying role? If you’re getting an MBA to increase your salary, you’ll want to make sure the concentration you study brings value. 

Use the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook to research median salaries for the jobs you’re interested in. That will give you an idea of what you might expect to make in an entry-level role. To use your MBA to increase your salary, you’ll need to demonstrate how what you learned in that concentration increases the value you offer as an employee. 

5. How much extra work is an MBA with a concentration?

Getting an MBA with a concentration isn’t necessarily more work. Most programs will structure the program to be the same length and amount of credits as a generalized MBA. Instead of taking more general business courses, you’d be taking specialized courses in your concentration.

If you’re interested in multiple concentrations, check with specific programs to see if they support it. In this case, taking more concentrations could mean a longer MBA program.

MBA Concentrations to Consider

While there are dozens of MBA specializations to choose from, most business schools don’t offer every concentration. Remember that your choice boils down to your education and career goals. Talk to the schools you’re interested in about why you want an MBA degree and what concentrations they offer. If you’re just getting started with your search, below are some MBA concentrations to consider. 

MBA Concentration in Finance

An MBA concentration in finance prepares students for leadership roles in the financial sector. Students learn finance skills like investment analysis, advanced financial management, corporate budgeting, international markets and corporate restructuring. Graduates with an MBA concentration in finance might pursue roles like financial analyst, finance manager, finance director and chief financial officer. 

MBA Concentration in Marketing

An MBA concentration in marketing program teaches skills including sales, online marketing, market research, brand management and strategy, product marketing, sales, advertising and public relations. You’ll learn about executing marketing strategies for both digital and traditional platforms. Graduates with this MBA might move into marketing leadership roles like marketing manager or content marketing director. 

MBA Concentration in Entrepreneurship

An MBA concentration in entrepreneurship helps aspiring business owners learn the skills they need to open their own businesses. An MBA with this focus can also help graduates who work at new companies, like tech startups, or want to take over a family business. MBA in entrepreneurship concentrations teach skills like leadership, people and operations management, and new product development. You’ll also develop a knack for networking with your classmates and other professionals.

MBA Concentration in Business Analytics

An MBA with a concentration in business analytics focuses on data skills, like how to solve business challenges using data, how to mine data, how to analyze data and identify trends, how to create statistical and pattern analysis models, and how to use analytics tools. Graduates with this MBA might pursue roles as a financial analyst, management analyst or operations research analyst.

MBA Concentration in Accounting

An MBA with a concentration in accounting will teach subjects like financial reporting and taxes. Students will learn about tax preparation, payroll services, corporate valuation, profit maximization and routine audits. An MBA in accounting can lead to roles such as accountant or auditor. This concentration can also help prepare you to obtain CPA certification as an accountant or auditor, if you aren’t already. If you are not sure about an MBA with a concentration in accounting, an alternative degree to explore would be a master’s in accounting.

MBA Concentration in Management

An MBA with a concentration in management teaches students how to manage people, processes and organizations. Students learn about topics such as organizational management, leadership and business ethics. You could apply this knowledge to a myriad of management careers, such as administrative services managers, advertising and marketing managers, medical and health services managers or sales managers.

MBA Concentration in Consulting

A consulting MBA concentration can lead to a career working with a variety of companies to provide recommendations that help them improve organizational efficiency and revenue. Well-known consulting firms like McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Company seek expert employees to assist clients with their consulting needs. Students in this program may have classes that discuss corporate strategy and informed decision making.

MBA Concentration in Healthcare

An MBA program with a concentration in healthcare teaches core business principles through a healthcare lens. Since the healthcare industry tends to be fairly regulated, you’ll learn how regulations may impact operational processes. An MBA in healthcare will teach you about the complexities of the healthcare system and how to navigate them successfully. MBA students with a healthcare concentration may study healthcare policy, technology, supply chain and management.

MBA Concentration in Project Management

A project manager works to advance a specific task or event toward completion, within a company’s human and financial resources. They work with a number of project stakeholders throughout the process. An MBA concentration in project management can help you improve your planning and organization abilities. Students can learn skills like conflict resolution, negotiation, resource allocation, project management tools, negotiation and time management.

MBA Concentration in Operations Management

An MBA program in operations management focuses on the management of the creation and delivery of services and products. Students in this program learn skills related to supply chain management, project management, price optimization, service operations strategy and more. Graduates might pursue roles as logistics managers, supply chain managers or operations consultants.

MBA Concentration in Strategy

An MBA concentration in strategy teaches students how to use business theory to create successful business models and develop better products and services. This concentration requires you to study business theory and understand what factors influence a company's success or failure. MBA concentration in strategy students may take classes about business analytics and leadership. They also may pursue roles as consultants or business analysts. 

MBA Concentration in Cybersecurity

An MBA with a concentration in cybersecurity teaches students how to apply business principles to technology sectors and become leaders in the cybersecurity field. Students learn business skills they can align with cybersecurity strategies to help businesses save money and minimize cybersecurity threats. Courses may cover cybersecurity law, management of information security systems, data warehousing and security, and cybersecurity policies.

MBA Concentration in Human Resources

An MBA with a concentration in human resources functions covers topics including recruitment, hiring, onboarding and training of employees, conflict management, employee benefits programs, dispute resolution, compliance, leadership, and interpersonal relationships. This concentration could prepare you for roles within an HR department. 

MBA Concentration in Information Systems

The information systems concentration will provide you with a combination of business and advanced technical skills. Students may learn how to plan and direct IT activities, manage people, analyze business data using computer software, and support business processes through enterprise resource planning. Classes for this concentration could cover computer science, statistics, finance and marketing.

MBA Concentration in Real Estate

An MBA with a concentration in real estate prepares students for real estate management. Students learn about the real estate industry, markets, financing and investment analysis. Those with a degree in this area may transition into real estate brokerage, investment management or business development. Typical classes for this degree include accounting and marketing for real estate.

MBA Concentration in Supply Chain Management

Supply chain management is the management of the flow of services and goods. Those who study for an MBA concentration in supply chain management learn about the storage and movement of raw materials, as well as the intricacies between businesses and their suppliers. Classes for this degree might discuss logistics management and quantitative approaches. 

MBA Concentration in Sustainability

A student in an MBA concentration in sustainability program will learn sustainable business practices and how to apply the latest developments in sustainability to all sizes and types of businesses. Students who receive an MBA sustainability concentration could apply their knowledge to careers within the environmental sector. Graduates from this type of program might apply sustainable knowledge to their own business or look for roles in other businesses, like chief sustainability officer.

Executive MBA

An executive MBA is not an MBA concentration, but a whole different type of MBA program. An executive MBA program is typically geared toward business professionals who already have leadership experience. While an MBA program prepares someone to enter a management career, an executive MBA program is usually designed for business leaders who want to expand their knowledge in particular areas.

A main difference between an MBA with a concentration and an executive MBA could be the types of discussions you’ll have with peers. Since most executive MBA students already have leadership experience, there might be different types of discussions that focus on real-world situations and business cases.

Because executive MBA programs are geared toward full-time working professionals, their structure tends to be more condensed than traditional MBA programs. For example, class times might be longer, which may shorten the amount of weeks a course takes and the length of the overall program. Executive MBA programs typically take 18 to 24 months to complete. Executive MBA programs will often cover similar topics as MBA programs, like accounting, finance and leadership. There may also be specialization options in an executive MBA program, or a wide variety of electives that are available so students can tailor their own program.

General MBA

In a general MBA program, you’ll learn skills that can be applied to many business industries. General MBA programs place emphasis on topics like finance, accounting and marketing. You’re still typically able to choose electives for a general MBA program. A general MBA program may be a good option for those who want to keep pace with business trends and maintain the transferability of their skills.

Specialized MBA Career Outlook

No matter what type of MBA concentration you pursue, getting your MBA may expand your employment prospects. The BLS reports the 2019 unemployment rate for those with an MBA was just 2%, which was lower than that of those with bachelor’s degrees and other lower levels of education. Check BLS job outlook data for the careers you’re interested in. Then, research MBA programs that offer the best MBA concentrations for your interests. 

 

Last Updated August 2020